Welcome them as you welcome me: a homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time


Readings: Wisdom 9:9–18; Psalm 90; Philemon 1–2, 9–10, 12–19a; Luke 14:25–33

7 women stand in front of the Vatican wearing cardinal red and holding red parasols with white letters that say “extraordinary women are here,” “#listeningchurch?” “more than half the church,” “reform means women,” sexism is a cardinal sin,” “it’s reigning men.” Source: womensordination.org

Earlier this week, the College of Cardinals convened at the Vatican to discuss Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution entitled, Praedicate Evangelium, or in English, Preach the Gospel. This constitution effectively restructures Vatican business offices, otherwise known as the departments of the Roman Curia. One of the things that has caught some public attention is that women may be appointed to previously off limits leadership positions in the curia.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too deeply at the situation to find red flags. The papal document uses the word hierarchical 50 times in 250 paragraphs, Jesus, 6. It also says its purpose is “making everyone know and live the ‘new’ communion” (Part I, paragraph 4). Whether or not Pope Francis and the clergy see it, these are words of force. To make is not the same as to invite or inspire, to welcome and include, to serve and support.

It is tragic that women have not been invited to participate in the review and development of the most critical church reform in decades. We could discover so much by coming to the table together and allowing the Spirit to speak among us. As it is, I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Einstein that says “the same level of thinking that created a problem will not be the one to solve it.”

And so, when 197 “cardinals, priests, and patriarchs,” made their way into a 2-day closed door meeting to discuss matters of Church governance in private on August 29th, seven women representing Women’s Ordination Worldwide and Women’s Ordination Conference stood outside the Vatican to greet them. The women wore cardinal red from head to toe, and they held umbrellas with white letters that said, “it’s reigning men,” “sexism is a cardinal sin,” and “reform means women.”

Unsurprisingly, Vatican authorities had the police detain the women within 15 minutes of their protest. Police took their umbrellas, their phones, and their passports, and held them for four hours. According to Kate McElwee of WOC, the activists were only released after signing ‘scores and scores’ of documents agreeing to comply with an investigation — the details of which are not public to my present knowledge. It is no secret that free speech is not a Roman Catholic value. Centuries of anathemas, censures, and excommunications show that preservation of authority is more important to the Vatican than reciprocal dialogue.

Ironically, when the cardinals convened and the women were jailed, Pope Francis encouraged the men in the room to ‘speak freely.’

With this in mind, it is a great week to talk about themes of enslavement and liberation in our readings. Paul identifies himself as a prisoner for the sake of Jesus the Christ. Is that not what happened to our sisters at the Vatican? Jailed for hearing and following the Gospel, and for showing up in witness to their brothers to provoke their consciences?

In a similar way, Paul speaks on behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave who he met in prison. Upon learning that Onesimus would be returned to Philemon, Paul takes action. He uses his relationship to make a likely unwelcome appeal for Onesimus’ safe return using a method we know so well of Paul: a letter to Philemon and his church.

Paul falls short of my modern notions of justice which cry out for full autonomy for all humans. However, he does something worth emulating, perhaps more powerful than issuing a manifesto. He uses the language of relationship to humanize Onesimus. He refers to him as his child, one who returns to Philemon carrying Paul’s own heart. Essentially, he asks his friend: treat Onesimus as you would treat me. “If you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Perhaps what we need is a letter from Paul to the Pope and ‘his’ church. “If you consider me your partner, welcome my sisters, who have my heart and are equally made in the image of our beloved God; welcome them as you would welcome me.”

It is much harder to overpower, enslave, and abuse others once we have seen their humanity and recognized that their inherent dignity matches ours. Even if Philemon wasn’t ready to see his slave as more than a piece of property, Paul grants his conscience little escape. To turn on Onesimus is to turn on Paul: that is more to grapple with. In a sense, Paul loans Onesimus his own humanity until others are capable of seeing God’s image in him directly.

Hierarchy is a graven image before God, especially a God who embodied flesh in the person of Jesus. Sadly, it has dominated the Roman Catholic institution for centuries and been a central source of harm against women & girls, Jews, Muslims, indigenous peoples, black and enslaved peoples, and others. The very idea of hierarchy places one group in superiority above others, and justifies violence for the sake of institutional harmony with the oppressor.

It is past time that we end the oppressor-oppressed relationship between male clergy and others. It isn’t gospel-like. Jesus did not force women into subordinate roles; he invited them into a truly reciprocal community.

For example, the first time Jesus revealed himself as messiah was to the women at the well. In revealing himself first to a woman who was also a social outsider, Jesus set an example of boundary-breaking inclusion and de-centering of power. He didn’t reform temples from the top-down, he healed and connected communities from the inside out.

Similarly, when Martha complained to Jesus that Mary of Bethany was not helping with her portion of the housework and instead sitting at Jesus’ feet, Jesus told her, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Note, Jesus did not suggest that Martha should labor alone while Mary absorbed Jesus’ teachings; perhaps Mary and Jesus helped Martha see an invitation where none had ever existed in her imagination before! Discipleship was not just for men!

And, as we are all very aware, Jesus first presents himself to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. She is the first apostle to the apostles.

And yet. Power begets power. Fear shuts doors and keeps change out, even if God herself is knocking.

Jesus warns about this in the Gospel today. He says, “none of you can be my disciple if you do not let go of all that you have.”

As for the Vatican ruling class, “all that they have” is centralized power and hierarchical structures that prevent the Communion of all God’s people.

But, my friends… what do you think? What do you hear in the Gospel today? What are your visions or hopes for the Church? Or, what do you feel you personally might be holding onto in your ego/identity that you need to release as you grow in discipleship?



Angela Nevitt Meyer
Brownsburg Inclusive Catholic Community

She/her. Mama bear. Catholic priest. Mind-Body Medicine certified practitioner. Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) 🌈